Thursday, June 27, 2013
Since SWEPCO announced plans for a high-voltage transmission line that would run through environmentally sensitive areas of Northwest Arkansas, people have been scrambling to protect investment in homes at risk from the line that would decimate property values and quality of life.
Americans pride themselves on property rights and democracy, but there seems to be a shocking lack of protections for property owners. Property owners were alerted to this potential taking of their land in early April when they were given 30 days to respond to the filing before the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC). Property owners have had to hire attorneys for such cases, which can run into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. A lot of property owners didn’t receive notice until a month later and some still haven’t been notified.
What SWEPCO’s proposal has revealed is a system that has been rigged. We are talking about a monopoly power company guaranteed profits on every dime it spends. People don’t have a choice where to buy their electricity, so the power company has captive customers. SWEPCO appears to have taken the political process captive, as well.
I haven’t found a single SWEPCO customer in Carroll County in favor of this proposal, yet the ratepayers will have to pay SWEPCO’s attorneys. At the same time, people opposing the project have to dig deep into their savings to fight this really bad project.
Who is supposed to represent the people when a wealthy utility decides to take their property? Interests of the people are supposed to be represented by the Attorney General’s office. So, people fighting for their homes have contacted Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. His response has been that he thinks the power line is a grand idea.
The AG has told property owners that he is “charged by law to advocate for policies that keep electric rates low while maintaining reliable electric service.” Yet rates will go up with this $118 million transmission line, and people fear a big impact on tourism. The Arkansas Tourism Commission has called the proposal “almost beyond comprehension.”
The state office holder who is supposed to be looking out for the little guy has a vested interest in swallowing the whole SWEPCO plan hook, line and sinker. That’s because he has accepted numerous campaign contributions from the utility industry.
“Yes, the Attorney General, his opponents for the office, and the AG’s predecessors have accepted contributions from utility companies,” McDaniel’s spokesman, Aaron Sadler, said. “It is neither illegal nor unethical to do so. His record of standing up for ratepayers is exemplary and has resulted in more than $800 million in ratepayer savings since he became Attorney General.
“As our letters to concerned citizens have explained, state law prohibits the AG from representing private citizens. In utility matters, the AG is required by law to represent the collective interests of Arkansas utility ratepayers. Citizens who would like to change that law should contact legislators.”
The problem with contacting legislators is they also routinely accept large campaign contributions from the utility industry. The parent company of SWEPCO, AEP, alone donated more than $41,400 to Arkansas lawmakers in 2010.
This isn’t the first time McDaniel has provided little help on issues of great importance to the public. The Arkansas Court of Appeals found in the SWEPCO’s Turk Power Plant case that the AG’s office did not represent public interest. In the Hempstead County Hunting Club lawsuit against the APSC and SWEPCO, the ruling states “the Office of the Attorney General acquiesced to the CECPN (Certification of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need) proceeding, thus abdicating its responsibility to protect the interests of the people of this state. The Consumer Utilities Rate Advocacy Division within the Office of the Attorney General, more commonly referred to as CURAD… participation as a party in the CECPN proceeding was almost non-existent.”
I poked around at some of McDaniel’s campaign contributions for his campaign for governor (dropped after revelations of his infidelity). There were about 20 contributions from the utility industry, primarily Entergy.
Gunner Delay, who ran against McDaniel in 2006, refused to take campaign contributions from utilities and said he would work to pass a law restricting utility contributions to AG candidates.
“The reason I have chosen not to accept utility money as a candidate for this office boils down to one word: ethics,” Delay said. “The rules of professional conduct that govern attorneys in the private practice of law make it unethical for an attorney to receive compensation from an opposing party. Since Arkansas law makes it clear that there is supposed to be an adversarial relationship between the AG’s office and regulated utilities, accepting contributions from public utilities creates an inherent conflict of interest. It is obvious that my opponent is trying to sell the office of AG to those interests he is required to oppose.”
Any more questions about why our AG is missing in action on the biggest issue of invasion of private property rights to ever hit Northwest Arkansas?
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